US SEC said to be probing corporate hacks by FIN4 group

Group sends sophisticated phishing emails to gain information about mergers and acquisitions

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is concerned that data stolen from companies in cyberattacks is being used to conduct what effectively is insider trading, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

The securities regulator has asked at least eight publically traded companies for information on data breaches, the report said quoting "people familiar with the matter." The companies were not identified.

The investigation, which is being conducted in parallel with one by the U.S. Secret Service, said Reuters, involves a group dubbed FIN4 by computer security company FireEye.

FIN4 has been in operation since mid-2013 and has targeted more than 100 traded companies and advisory firms with highly targeted and sophisticated spear phishing attacks, FireEye said in a 2014 report. Most of the companies are in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, and the targets of the hacking attempts are individuals who regularly communicate about potentially market-moving information that is private, said FireEye.

The group will attempt to obtain documents related to ongoing discussions of mergers and acquisitions involving major companies, then add malware to the documents and send them on to top executives, furthering its reach inside an organization.

"On multiple occasions, FIN4 has targeted several parties involved in a single business deal, to include law firms, consultants, and the public companies involved in negotiations," the report said.

FireEye didn't guess the identity of the group but noted the emails appear to be written by native speakers of English.

The mass of information potentially available to hackers was demonstrated last December when emails from Sony Pictures Entertainment were published on the Internet. The emails contained confidential details of negotiations with traded and private companies, copies of contracts, inside information on the motion picture industry and gossip about what was happening in Hollywood.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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